Arabic Script: Styles, Variants, and Calligraphic Adaptations



Author: Khan, Gabriel Mandel

Brand: Abbeville Press

Edition: Bilingual edition

Package Dimensions: 20x231x499

Number Of Pages: 180

Release Date: 01-04-2006

Details: Product Description

This fascinating guide to the Arabic alphabet and writing styles also offers an ample and thorough overview of a culture and a civilization.
This enlightening book helps us discover an alphabet that throughout the centuries has been linked to the secular and religious worlds of Islam. The text explains the history and meaning of each letter, as well as its philosophical, theological, and cultural significance, and 300 two-color and black-and-white pictures illustrate the letters, their variants, and calligraphic adaptations. An ideal book for linguists, graphic designers, and collectors of Islamic art,
Arabic Script will also prove handy for travelers who wish to become familiar with the rudiments of the alphabet.

One of the world’s major forms of writing, Arabic script is the language of the Koran and became widespread as a result of Islamic conquests of much of the world. The Koran places great importance on writing, and in the first verse of the holy book, reading and writing with the calamus, or reed pen, are praised as the source of all knowledge and all spiritual or scientific paths of change. For this reason the Islamic world is known for its reverence for books, as well as its love of writing. Eventually Arabic script gave rise to calligraphic art, which became an art form of astonishing beauty. More highly regarded than painting, Arabic calligraphy is approached aesthetically, like music, with its own rules of composition, rhythm, and harmony.


“With its hundreds of illustrations ranging over many centuries, this book is a visual treat even for readers unfamiliar with Arabic. Of particular interest to calligraphers and graphic designers.” —
Library Journal

About the Author

Gabriel Mandel Khan is an official of the Jerrahi-Halveti Sufi Brotherhood in Italy and a member of the Cambridge Islamic Academy. He has published many works on Islamic history and culture and is also a well-known calligrapher, engraver, and ceramist.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Excerpt from
Arabic Script

The Letters of the Alphabet

Name: alif
Transliteration: the sign ’ or a.
Pronunciation: long a, as in fair (for special signs, see pages 90-91).

The first letter of the Arabic alphabet is the sign ’ (
alif); it has a guttural sound.

In the art of reciting the Qur’an (
tajwid), it has the characteristics of sonority, tonicity, and softening, and the antonymies of lowering and opening.

This letter is the module of the whole calligraphic system. Calligraphers vary its length, measuring it in square points, or dots (
noqta), as for other letters. The width of the
alif is one point, and its length can vary from three to twelve points; for example, in the
naskhi it has a height of five points, in the
thuluth, nine. From the length of the
alif the diameter of a circle inside which all the other letters are written is also calculated. The characteristics of this letter are linearity (
qawam), axiality (
mihwari), balance (
mu‘tadilan), and a straight stroke (

Because the shape of the
alif resembles the numeral 1, it symbolizes the selfness of God as well as his unity. Thus, this letter take son the archetypal value of the whole alphabet, which it begins, and is thus also identified with Adam, the father of humankind (and thus any diacritical sign affirming this letter’s value is identified with Eve).

The three main positions of Islamic prayer are: standing, like the
alif; kneeling, like the
dal; and prostrate, like the
mim. These three letters also make up the name Adm (Adam). According to the mystic Ibn Ata’Allah Abbas (d. 1309), “this name is derived from
ulfa (good company), because it unites and agrees (
ta‘lif) with the other letters.” For some sects, however the
alif represents Satan, because like him “it does not bow” to God (
alif mutaakhar al-Sujud).

alif is an interrogative particle (
a Zaydun fy al-Bayti?: Is Zayd home?).



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